Congratulations! You didn’t die. Now what?

by | Jun 22, 2023 | Her Story | 0 comments

Congratulations! You didn’t die.

Now what?

For those of you just joining this blog, I’ve spent the past 491 days battling brain cancer. The archived posts in this blog are all from a caring bridge that I’ve been keeping for the past year. Now that my cancer treatment is complete, all of my future musings will be posted here, on this blog. Not all of my posts will be cancer-related and unless anything significant happens, I won’t be posting health updates. This is officially my first blog entry on The Path.

Upon finishing up cancer treatment, people will join one of two groups:

  1. The “You’re cured!” group or the
  2. “You’re in remission and will continue to be monitored for life” group.

Regardless of which group you fall into, finishing up treatment, and re-entering the Kingdom of the Living, can be a daunting experience.

As I got the idea for this post, two videos came to mind.

The first was the ending of the moving Finding Nemo. There’s a scene at the very end, where the fish from the dentist’s tank finally escape from the tank, cross the road, and end up in Sydney Harbor. Once they’ve all made it and as they bob in the water, while contained in their bags of water, The puffer fish says “Now what?”. Much like the fish’s multiple and epic attempts at freedom, such is the life of one fighting cancer. The cancer patient thinks of one thing and one thing only; Survival! I won’t lie, for me, there was some comfort during that year of treatment, knowing that it was unlikely that my tumor would grow back while I was undergoing radiation and on the monthly chemo. However, inevitably, almost every patient stops treatment, and once that happens, the patient must learn to navigate their “new normal”.

The second video that I thought about when starting this blog entry was a scene from Beetlejuice. Right after Alec Baldwin and Gina Davis die, they enter their attic and find the “Handbook for the recently deceased”. Alec’s character mispronounces the title and says DISEASED before he’s corrected. I thought it was appropriate for this post because that’s what we, who’ve gotten through treatment are.

We actually are, ”The recently DISEASED”.

In one of my last CaringBridge posts, I jokingly said that I should write a handbook on how to handle moving on from finishing treatment and re-entry into the world.

My joke has become a reality in this post.

So in an effort to get some perspective, I reached out to a handful of cancer survivors whom I happen to know and sent out a questionnaire to them asking for their input. The following is a compilation of the answers I received. I’ve kept the answers anonymous.

The majority of the people who answered my questions were relieved when their treatment was completed. Everyone said they were exhausted from treatment and that it took some time to get their energy back. There are two parts of recovery; The physical and depending on the type of cancer, treatment, etc. recovery times vary from the physical standpoint. The second part of recovery is the mental and emotional side effects of treatment. Most respondents still felt like cancer patients until they completed their 4-5+ years of follow-up. Even then, fear of reoccurrence creeps up when certain dates come up (date of diagnosis, date of surgery, etc). One respondent said that there was fear every time they heard of someone having a reoccurrence of cancer.

One of the questions I asked was what helped the most when transitioning back into the “kingdom of the living”. There were a few things that EVERYONE mentioned…. Their family’s love and encouragement, prayer, and time. Another common answer was service to others.

This makes perfect sense to me; If you’re focused on others and their needs, you tend to not focus on your own problems (i.e., I am recovering from cancer).

One of my favorite responses was not to let the cancer hiccup rob you of the joy of your life. All respondents said to wake up each day and find joy in that day, enjoy your life, and thank God for what that day brings. The hiccup of cancer. I just love that idea! Cancer is just a little bump in the road and doesn’t define how the rest of our life is going to be. Make no mistake; as cancer survivors, we are changed! We’ve had things cut off, cut out, rearranged, reattached, we’ve been radiated, and we’ve filled ourselves with poison in an effort to kill what’s killing us.

But as one person pointed out, we are changed for the better. For good. Just like the song in the play “Wicked”. This was another one of my favorite responses! We are changed in so many ways physically, emotionally, and mentally. And even with all the scars and residuals (brain fog, neuropathy, permanent hair loss), these can be used for good. Personally, I now look at people who are being rude, impatient or grouchy in a totally different light. I wonder what it is that has them so upset. Are they a caregiver to someone in poor health and they’re just burned out or are they themselves a cancer patient trying to just survive? There is no one way to re-enter the kingdom of the living after cancer treatment.

The best you can do is be gentle with yourself, go at your own pace, find the joy in your life (because it’s there in everything, every day) lean on those nearest and dearest to you, and realize that with time, you WILL feel and be better!

About Me

In February 2022, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and it changed my whole life perspective. This blog is dedicated to my Journey through cancer diagnosis, recovery, and finding the humor in life.


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